I had absolutely no interest in seeing Paddington 2. None. I saw the first film, just a week or two ago, and didn’t love it. It wasn’t poorly made, or anything. It just wasn’t made for me. The humor and presentation were squarely aimed at kids, with little for adults to enjoy. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it didn’t exactly fill me with excitement for seeing another installment by the same filmmakers, including director Paul King who returns to helm this sequel. To be fair, though, most critics and audiences, alike, enjoyed that first film, so I decided that I could be willing to give the series another chance and check out the new one – especially after its crazy reviews.
Oh, right – the reviews for Paddington 2 . . .. For those who are unaware, Paddington 2 is officially the highest rated film in Rotten Tomatoes history (though, as I illustrate here, you’re probably using Rotten Tomatoes incorrectly). It is one of only a handful of films to ever earn a 100% score on the review aggregation site and it’s done so with more reviews than any of the others that managed to achieve that milestone. So, really . . . I kind of had to see it, right? Even if I’m a couple of weeks behind, I just had to see it. In spite of those reviews, I still expected to dislike it at worst and be bored at best. I was straight up wrong.
In the film, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) sets his sights on a rare and expensive birthday present for the aunt who raised him and he left behind in the woods, so long ago. As he assumes the responsibility of earning the money for it all on his own by taking odd jobs, the intended gift is stolen and things quickly spiral out of control for Paddington and his adoptive family, the Browns.
The first item I want to touch on is what I mostly disliked about the first film: the humor. It’s definitely better in the sequel, with subtlety and a traditional British dryness about it that, while not uproarious, certainly works. The humor sneaks in there without feeling the need to announce itself as humor. You either catch it or you don’t. And, thankfully, there are enough instances of comedy aimed at adults – through sophistication, not any sort of inappropriateness – that parents (or film geeks who just want to see what all the fuss is about) will be amused.
But what surprised me the most was how many elements of other films and shows – films and shows that wouldn’t be expected – I found in Paddington 2. For example, part of the film takes place in a prison and while that on its own isn’t enough to draw any sort of insightful comparison to “Orange is the New Black”, Brendan Gleeson’s Knuckle McGinty character is. His arc is evocative of one of the Netflix series’s more memorable character arcs.
Also, as Hugh Grant’s Phoenix Buchanan searches for his own treasure, his path is reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. Buchanan is also an actor in the twilight of his career, being relegated to doing dog food commercials. I couldn’t help but think of Birdman but, more than that, Grant’s own star isn’t what it once was and, similar to Buchanan’s reputation taking a hit for appearing in a dog food commercial (which is one of the highlights of the film), Grant took some flak in certain circles for appearing in this very film. That adds another more meta aspect to his role and performance and it certainly seems like Grant is getting the last laugh, right about now.
But there was one other comparison I kept making and it had to do with Paddington’s characterization. Paddington is irresistibly lovable and, as I watched, I made a concerted effort to put my finger on why. Yes, he’s a cuddly little bear with an English accent, but so is James Corden, and he can be divisive. No, it’s something beyond that. And then it hit me. Paddington is likeable for the exact same reason that Deadpool was likeable in his 2016 film: authenticity. It was here (in one of my more popular columns) where I pointed out that people love Deadpool not because he’s violent, not because he’s funny, and not because of the foul mouth that the film version has and the comic version usually doesn’t, but because he’s earnest.
In that way, Paddington is the same. When Paddington is funny, it’s not because he’s trying to be funny; it’s because he’s just being himself. When Paddington is helpful, it’s not because he’s looking to get something in return; he’s just being himself. When Paddington is angry, he’s not worried about how the target of his anger will react or feel; he’s just being himself. And when Paddington is being loving towards his family and friends, it’s not because he’s trying to selfishly retain them to satisfy his own needs; it’s because he genuinely loves them.
This idea is the cornerstone of the film. Ultimately, the message of Paddington 2 is that love and kindness have ripple effects that make life better for both the giver and the receiver, first in little ways and then compounding into more significant, long-term aftereffects that can change a person’s life for the better. The word that keeps coming up in reference to Paddington 2 is “charming” and I’m going to have to use it, too. Because, amidst its charismatic characters, heartwarming story, downplayed humor, creative shot framing, and majestic English setting, the film has an undeniable charm that is missing from most movies, these days. Paddington 2 is a throwback to the days when simplicity was king and high ethics and morals as well as family values were considered boons, not banes.
Maybe I’ll give the first film another chance, once I get through watching some other movies and shows I have on deck at home. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for it, the first time around. Regardless, I’m glad I took my own advice, listened to the critics, and saw Paddington 2. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll try marmalade soon, too.
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